David Trezeguet has got a lot to answer for in Italy.
The France striker’s golden goal winner in extra-time of the Euro 2000 final kicked off a run of disappointing European campaigns for the Italians, who crashed out in the group stages in 2004 and meekly in the quarter-finals to Spain in 2008.
Throw in their second round exit from the World Cup in 2002 and a calamitous group stage elimination from the tournament in 2010 and it is almost easy to forget that Italy were world champions just six years ago.
Looking at the current squad can give you that feeling too.
The likes of Gianluigi Buffon, Daniele de Rossi and Andrea Pirlo are still there, but pretty much everybody else has changed as the Italians embark upon a new generation.
Former Fiorentina coach Cesare Prandelli has a tough job as he oversees a talented but internationally raw group of players, who managed to finish comfortably top of a simple qualifying group which included Estonia, Serbia, Slovenia, Northern Ireland and the Faroe Islands.
Search the squads of the three Italian sides who made the knockout stages of the Champions League this season – AC Milan, Inter Milan and Napoli – and you’ll find that their star players aren’t Italian, and so the boss has to find talents elsewhere. In Villarreal’s Giuseppe Rossi and the Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Thiago Motta – a former Brazil international – he’s got plenty of stars in other countries though.
Additionally, Juventus’s improvement has allowed Prandelli to see experienced defenders Giorgio Chiellini and Andrea Barzagli put in strong Serie A performances week in week out alongside Buffon and Pirlo, whilst Juve’s forward Alessandro Matri and midfielder Claudio Marchisio might be new names to many but are likely to find themselves the centre of national attention.
One man who is used to that is of course Mario Balotelli, and the Manchester City forward (top goalscorer 22/1 Bwin) will be ready to thrive in the limelight of his first major tournament. He might have to share headline status with his first opponents though.
Italy kick off their Euro 2012 in the toughest possible manner, with a match against Spain in Gdansk on the tournament’s third day.
The Spanish did start their 2010 World Cup campaign slowly though, and so any positive result there (Draw 13/5 SkyBet) would set the Italians up for somewhat simpler matches against Croatia and the Republic of Ireland in Poznan. If you’re optimistic that they can take something from the Spanish, then the group points market (exactly 7 11/2, exactly 9 10/1 Ladbrokes) might be the way to go.
The belief has to be that Italy will come second to Spain in Group C though, which will most likely set up one of the more intriguing quarter-finals against either France or England. All three can beat each other on their day, but then the winner probably comes up against Germany or Holland, who can both be considered to be a cut above.
All of which means that a last four exit looks to be the best that Italy (stage of elimination: semi-final 9/2 Bet365) look to be able to achieve, although the firms seem to feel that they’d be lucky to get that far (stage of elimination: quarter-final 9/4 Ladbrokes).
Either way, a repeat of those 2006 World Cup heroics would be considered a huge surprise for a squad still evolving, and although the Italians – and Balotelli in particular – are likely to provide just as many talking points as they always do in tournaments, one of those won’t be inspired by the sight of them lifting the trophy.